Friday, January 6, 2012
"History of Mosquitia"
from "World HIstory at KMLA" [http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/centramerica/xmosquitia.html]:
The Atlantic coast of what is today Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica is of low altitude, largely covered by tropical rainforest. Spanish settlement in the 16th and 17th century concentrated on the highland Cordillera region further to the west. The Atlantic coastal region of what then was the Audiencia of Guatemala was an area largely neglected by the Spanish authorities, thinly populated, in the region of present-day Atlantic Nicaragua and adjacent strips of modern Honduras and Costa Rica, by the Miskito Indians.
From the early 17th century onward, Englsh privateers frequented the Atlantic coastal regions. As both the English and the native Miskito regarded the Spanish their enemies, they developed friendly relations, and the English settled on several locations along the coast. In 1655 England acquired Jamaica from Spain. While England fortified Jamaica, the Atlantic coast region of mainland Central America was treated as a sphere of influence, but no effort was undertaken to establish fortifications, and little effort was undertaken to delineate the borders of the area; the relation with Spain was that of war, and English supremacy on the sea secured the status quo.
In the late 17th century European politics changed the situation : Louis XIV.'s threat to establish French hegemony on the European continent caused England (since 1707 the United Kingdom) to enter into an alliance with Spain. While Spain for the late 17th and much of the 18th century accepted the status quo - as long as Spain and Britain were at peace - it never formally recognized the legitimacy of the political entities under British protection on the Atlantic coast.
From 1780 to 1783 Spain and Britain were at war; Spanish forces took control of most of the coast of present-day Honduras. Following a rebellion of the Black Caribs (Garifuna speakers) on the island of Saint Vincent, in 1796 the British resettled the Black Caribs on Roatan Island and the Atlantic coast of present-day Honduras.
The early 19th century saw the independence of Mexico and the United Provinces of Central America. The latter went through a turbulent period (1821-1839) which ended in disintegration, Guatemala, El Salvador, Hondurs, Nicaragua and Costa Rica gaining independence. Now the Mosquito Coast and British Honduras (= Belize) were established as British protectorates.
Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica did not recognize British control of the Mosquito Coast. The British attitude toward their Mosquito Coast protectorate can be described as benevolent toward the indigenous population and reluctant to commit to investing in the development of the area. In 1860 Britain handed over the administration of the region to Nicaragua (border treaties with Honduras and Costa Rica resulted in fractions of the area coming under the sovereignty of these countries).
At the time of the handover, the Mosquito Coast, while thinly populated and with a poorly developed infrastructure, was more affluent than core Nicaragua - a fact expressed by the Mosquito Coast using a silver currency, while core Nicaragua used coinage the denomination of which did not correspond the value of its metal. The usage of tax revenue collected in the Mosquito Coast region for investment in core Nicaragua was the cause for political discontent and occasional unrest in the later part of the 19th century.
Communitarian Nation of Moskitia
A Moskito Family in Nicaragua (photo: Barry Tessman)
"Miskito Nation blames gov't, ALBA"
2012-02-25 by Tim Rogers from "Nicaragua Dispatch" [http://www.nicaraguadispatch.com/news/2012/02/miskito-nation-blames-gov’t-alba/2389/2389]:
Backing Lapan: The Council of Elders for the Communitarian Nation of the Moskitia is calling for resistance (photo/ Tim Rogers)
The Mosquito Coast’s ancestral Council of Elders is calling on indigenous communities to “organize against the aggression and neutralize the actions of invasion, occupation, destruction of forests, land sales and illegal concession that the State of Nicaragua is promoting as a new form of neo-colonialization.”
In response to the recent indigenous uprising in the community of Lapan, which has taken 12 outsiders prisoner in a tense standoff between indigenous and non-indigenous residents on the Caribbean coast, the Council of Elders today released a five-point declaration blaming the situation on Sandinistas’ political and economic interests in the region.
The elder council’s declaration denounces the “powerful business interests of the Venezuelan ALBA (group) of Hugo Chávez that is claiming ownership of our natural resources,” and calls for solidarity “with the just cause of the community of Lapan for defending themselves against this aggression.”
The indigenous council, which represents the Communitarian Nation of the Moskitia, says it also refuses to recognize “any title, transaction, or illegal payment for indigenous lands.”
“The international treaties of the Moskitia and the Sacred Writings recognize that each national or people has the right to defend its territories,” the declaration reads. “The Sumos Mayangnas, Ramas and Miskitus are the Original Nations with historic rights to the Moskitia.”
The declaration is signed by Otis Lam Hoppington, the eldest living member of the Council of Elders, as well as council directors Alejandro Barquero and Roberto Thomas.
The declaration comes one day after the separatists political leader, the Wihta Tara—or great judge—told The Nicaragua Dispatch that the Communitarian Nation of the Moskitia is not behind the recent uprising in Lapan.
The Council of Elders announced its support for the rebirth of the Communitarian Nation of the Moskitia in 2006, but has been relatively quiet for several years. The government of Nicaragua does not recognize the group’s claim to independence.
"Land conflicts lead to racial tensions on Caribbean coast: Part I in a two-part series on land conflicts in Nicaragua"
2012-02-24 by Tim Rogers from "Nicaragua Dispatch" [http://www.nicaraguadispatch.com/news/2012/02/land-conflicts-lead-to-racial-tensions-on-caribbean-coast/2379/2379]:
The agricultural frontier continues to advance into Bosawas (photo/ Tim Rogers)
Miskito separatists pose with homemade weapons in 2011 in response to a wave of land invasions around Bilwi. The conflict over indigenous lands has since gotten even more heated, as another Miskito community rises up against land invasions by west coast “colonists” (photo/ Tim Rogers)
The continuous wave of land invasions and outside encroachment into indigenous communal lands by non-indigenous Nicaraguans has sparked a Miskito uprising in one rural community and wider fears of growing racial tensions in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN).
“This is a time bomb,” Miskito leader Reynaldo Francis, the regional leader of the Yatama indigenous group, told The Nicaragua Dispatch Friday afternoon in a phone conversation from Bilwi, the regional capital of the RAAN.
“This is a very dangerous situation. We’ve never had a conflict like this before between the colonists and the indigenous. The Nicaraguan government has to respond quickly to this situation because it could get out of hand fast,” Francis stressed.
By “colonists” Francis is referring to non-indigenous Nicaraguans who, since the 1990s, have been encroaching on the lush indigenous land to raise cattle, grow crops or extract precious hardwoods.
The indigenous leader says several Miskito communities and Yatama ex-combatants are organizing to defend themselves in the northern communities of Waspam and Río Coco. If the situation is not dialed back quickly, it could become very dangerous, he warns.
“People are running out of patience,” Francis said. “Right now any crazy person could do something to provoke the other side.”
The crisis started Feb. 9, when six non-indigenous “volunteer policemen” wearing uniforms and armed with guns tried to arrest two indigenous community leaders in the rural Miskito village of Lapan, some 80 kilometers southwest of Bilwi.
The Miskito community, which was already suspicious of outsiders invading their lands, captured the six policemen and locked them up. A few days later, the community took six more prisoners, bringing the number of detained “colonists” to 12.
Lapan has since closed off its community to all outsiders, and insists it won’t release its prisoners until all the colonists leave their land.
The mestizo (Nicaraguan non-indigenous) population on the Caribbean coast quickly organized to defend their own. The mestizos, many of whom are affiliated with either the Sandinista Front or the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), used trucks and busses to block the main roads in and out of Bilwi, cutting off commerce and public transportation. The mestizo protesters say the roadblocks will continue until all the prisoners are released by their indigenous captures.
The roadblock, now in its second week, has reportedly led to the beginning of food shortages in the Bilwi market. It has also prevented people in the RAAN from traveling over land to Managua for medical attention or other business.
Francis warns that if the situation is not resolved quickly, the Miskito population in Bilwi could rise up against the mestizos, triggering an ugly racial conflict that will be hard to control once it starts.
“The Caribbean coast has become contaminated with mestizos,” Francis says. “They keep advancing on our lands and cutting our trees. They already have us pushed up against the ocean, and now they want to put us in the ocean. But we are not fish to live in the ocean.”
Though Francis’ Yatama—an indigenous movement that rose up in arms against the first Sandinista government in the 1980s—is now allied with the Sandinistas on certain national political issues, he says the indigenous land issue is one that trumps their political alliance and unifies all Miskito people.
“This is our ancestral struggle,” Francis said. “Many young Miskito men fought and sacrificed their lives for this land.”
Titling indigenous land -
Land conflicts are not new on the Caribbean coast, but they have flared again in recent years.
In 2003, the government of President Enrique Bolaños passed Law 445, legislation to demarcate indigenous land and give structure to Nicaragua’s 1987 Autonomy Law. The formalization of property titles and limitations has reinvigorated some older conflicts over land ownership and management.
Indigenous populations claim the mestizos’ continued deforestation of their ancestral lands has reached a critical point. Even the Nicaraguan Army recently admitted that land invasions and deforestation has reached the very heart of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, considered the “lungs of Central America.”
“The mestizos are invading and destroying our land; they want to turn it into a desert like they’ve done on the Pacific coast,” says Rev. Hector Willams, the Wihta Tara—or “great judge” of the ancestral Communitarian Nation of the Mosquita.
“This is causing the people to rise up,” the Wihta Tara told The Nicaragua Dispatch today in a phone interview from Bilwi. “The problem is big and it is serious.”
Wihta Tara says the current uprising in Lapan is a grassroots movement to defend the land. He insists he is not behind Lapan’s rebellion, though the cause of the community’s pushback is very similar to that of the separatists.
“Wihta Tara is not behind this,” he said. “They are defending their own land, because in the end, each community has to defend itself.”
Yatama’s Francis, meanwhile, thinks the central government is making a mistake by continuing to ignore the problem. He says the central government is so vertically structured that state authorities RAAN stand around with their arms folded until they receive orders from President Daniel Ortega, who has not commented on the situation after two weeks.
“Apparently they are more interested in the EU report about election fraud. But we are not interested in that,” Francis said.
The indigenous leader also questions why the state doesn’t give the same attention to indigenous’ land claims as they do to wealthy investors on the Pacific coast.
Francis says he finds it interesting that the Prosecutors’ Office has started talks with Punta Teonoste over the disputed territory claimed by the luxury eco-hotel, but has not given the indigenous people the same treatment when it comes to their claims about communal land.
“There they are negotiating over 20 manzanas of land that the state wants to give to Edén Pastora, but here they won’t listen to us and we’re talking about thousands and thousands of manzanas of land,” Francis said. “The state needs to pay attention to this situation.”
(Next week: part II: Pacific coast problems)
"Honduras: Honduran Moskitia Peoples To Defend Their Territory"
from "Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH)", translated from Spanish 2011-04-02 posted to [http://indigenouspeoplesissues.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9676:honduras-honduran-moskitia-peoples-to-defend-their-territory&catid=30&Itemid=63]:
On Monday 28 March, over one thousand indigenous Miskito, Tawahka, Pech and Garifuna moved to Puerto Lempira for the purpose of claiming Moskitia autonomy, the right to free, prior and informed , the immediate cessation of the construction of hydroelectric dams in the river Patuca, in addition to the eviction of the U.S. base in the Laguna de Karataska.
Moskitia became a party in the year 1861 the territory of the Republic of Honduras, through the treaty between Great Britain and Honduras called Wyke-Cruz, the content that clarified the rights of the Miskito people on the ancestral territory, without that the various Republican administrations throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century, had taken account of that treaty.
The systematic looting of the Moskita is a sign of internal colonialism that we have been subjected indigenous and black peoples in Honduras: From the forest resources and coastal and marine, from the abuse committed by the manipulated agricultural colonization fronts, ethnocide made with the divers by the industrial fishing fleet based in the Bay Islands.
They are part of the mechanisms of subjugation that have been used to destroy a very important area of the planet. In recent years, production of protected areas by international financial organizations, has become another form of dispossession.
The territory of the Moskitia lacks legal recognition, a situation that is exploited by the ruling elite in Honduras to continue with the expropriation of territories considered key for their extraction and biofuel projects.
A major concern felt by the peoples of the Moskitia, is the construction of dams on the river Patuca, which destroyed the coastal water system in addition to condemning the people Tawahka disappearance.
Although Honduras has ratified the ILO Convention 169, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Convention on Biological Diversity: does not respect the right to free, prior and informed consultation, we have the indigenous peoples, this being a violation of the Vienna Convention (1969), in ignoring the pacta servanda Sunt (the agreement required), one of the pillars of international law.
The coup of 2009, destroyed the nascent rule of law, accelerating the destruction of the Rio Platano Biosphere, and intensifying the presence of foreign groups that are deforested at a rapid pace the biosphere, both for livestock, and for planting in the near future oil palm and sugar cane for the voracious international market for biofuels,
The claims of the peoples of the Moskitia that have been going on for decades have been buried by World Bank projects, World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, who through Our Roots Program and DIPA, attempted to neutralize crumbs historical claims that have been taking place.
The peoples of the Moskitia are initiating a process of self-demarcation, to solve the inertia of the state, and the failure of numerous agreements. The process of deterritorialization has been protected by the absence of a Community in favor of Moskitia.
The installation of a U.S. military base in the Laguna de Karataska, after the coup, with the supposed guise of stopping drug trafficking, is part of the military occupation that suffers from Central America under the Merida Initiative, the peoples of the Moskitia were never consulted.
We understand the problems of social tissue destruction caused by the scourge of drugs, but at the same time, after more than three decades of futile war against drugs and the few results that emerged from Plan Colombia, the Merida Initiative is not that a strategy of domination.
In the last Assembly of the peoples of the Earth and Sea, held in the Garifuna community of San Juan Tela in February of this year, indigenous peoples and blacks in the country, together we decided to unconditionally the struggle waged by the brothers of the Moskitia in relation to the autonomy of their territory and the immediate suspension of the river hydroelectric Patuca and Sico.
We hope that the nation-state autonomy understand this as a call to respect the territorial and the right to consultation, and not as a balkanization of Honduras in a disjointed and Central America.
Indigenous peoples and blacks, we are preparing to mobilize to the Moskitia in the coming months, to carry out a day of solidarity and demand the cancellation of the construction of mega dams that affect the Patuca and coastal water system, generating unimaginable consequences for the peoples Tawahkas, Miskito, Pech and Garifuna.
"The Communitarian Nation of Moskitia?"
2010-10-18 by Martin W. Lewis [http://www.geocurrents.info/place/latin-america/the-communitarian-nation-of-moskitia]: On February 17, 2010, Nicaragua’s La Prensa reported that a local council of elders had asked the people of Nicaragua’s coastal region not to participate in upcoming regional elections. The elders, representing the Miskito Indians, urged noncompliance for a simple reason: they no longer recognize the authority of the government of Nicaragua. In August 2009, community leaders announced the independence of the “Communitarian Nation of Moskitia,” declaring that henceforth they themselves formed “el único Gobierno que debe ser reconocido” (“the only government that should be recognized”). Loose plans for secession had been in place since 2001, when 280 indigenous communities pledged solidarity in seeking peaceful separation from Nicaragua. In 2008 and 2009, disputes with the government, especially over the spiny lobster fishery, intensified, leading to the declaration of independence. Nicaragua has not formally responded – nor has any other country, to my knowledge. The actual “independence” of the region remains largely imaginary.
The word “Miskito” has nothing to do with biting flies, but that hasn’t stopped eastern Nicaragua from being called the Mosquito Coast. The Miskitos, some 150,000 to 200,000 strong, share the region with several other indigenous groups, as well as English-speaking Afro-Nicaraguans and some Spanish-speaking mestizos. In general, the east is culturally opposed to the rest of the country: Creole English and indigenous languages are more widely spoken than Spanish, and Protestantism (with strong indigenous and African elements) is more widespread than Catholicism. Moskitia’s would-be leaders claim that their new country will be ethnically inclusive, but its political structures are to be based on Misktito traditions. Hector Williams, head of the movement, goes by the indigenous title of Wihta Tara, or Great Judge.
The Miskitos formed a kind of state as far back as the 1700s, reportedly ruled by a king in consultation with governors, commanding a well-organized military force. Allied with the British in the Caribbean, they fought the Spanish colonial realm, retaining the autonomy of their homeland. After the independence of the Spanish colonies in the early 1800s, Britain maintained a loose and unofficial protectorate over the region. As shown in the above 1842 map (published by Chapman and Hall, from the David Rumsey collection), the area was often mapped as an independent Indian realm, an unusual cartographic category at that time. The British withdrew in the late 1800s, and in 1894 the so-called Mosquito Coast was annexed by Nicaragua. A remote region, it remained largely left to itself until the late mid-1900s.
The position of Nicaragua’s Atlantic coastal region changed dramatically in 1979, when the country’s new Marxist Sandinista government sought to tap its resources and integrate it with the rest of the country. Sandinista leaders also objected to the use of English along the Mosquito Coast, which they viewed as a legacy of British imperialism. Miskito leaders refused to comply with their demands. They quickly formed militias, which joined forces with the so-called contras (“counter-revolutionaries) struggling against the government.
Stability returned to the Caribbean coast in 1990 when Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega was democratically replaced by his former ally, Violeta Chamorra. In 2007, a reformed Daniel Ortega returned to power through the ballot box. Ortega may now be a culturally conservative Catholic, but economically and geopolitically he remains a leftist, and he has joined Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas.” Ortega’s return to power was one of the main reasons Miskito elders declared independence.
"Nicaragua's Miskitos seek independence"
2009-08-03 by Stephen Gibbs from "BBC News" [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8181209.stm]:
Lawyer Oscar Hodgson says the Miskitos should be independent
It takes an hour and a half in a light aircraft to reach the Mosquito Coast from the Nicaraguan capital, Managua.
By road it is a journey of almost 20 hours.
You cross 450km (280 miles) of remote terrain; forested mountains and then deserted swampland.
It feels like travelling to another country.
And that is precisely what many of the people who live here say it should be.
For centuries, the Miskito people have made up the majority indigenous population on this bleak, flat coastline. Last April, a group of their elders formally declared independence.
No more, they said, would they pay any heed to the government in Managua. No longer would they pay taxes. Instead their loyalty would be to the "Community Nation of Moskitia".
A flag was designed, and a national anthem composed.
"Every nation has the right to independence," says Oscar Hodgson, a lawyer for the independence movement. "And we are a nation."
His surname, like many in the Miskito community, reveals something of the history of this isolated outpost.
British protectorate -
Throughout most of the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Miskitos were allied to the British, whose navy provided them with weapons, and encouraged them to launch raids on neighbouring Spanish bases.
Their land, which stretched from what is now Honduras in the north, almost to Costa Rica in the south, became an informal British protectorate.
But in 1894, by which time the protectors had other priorities, the territory was annexed by Nicaragua.
The current leader of the Miskitos is an affable, avuncular man called Hector Williams. His Miskito title is Wihta Tara, or Great Judge.
"The people asked me to lead them, and that is what I shall do," he says, as he stands in the warm evening sun overlooking the Caribbean sea.
The relationship between the Miskito people and the government in Managua has never been easy.
After the Sandinista revolution led by Daniel Ortega succeeded in 1979, many Miskitos were quick to join the US-backed counter-revolutionaries or "contras".
Some found the Marxist route they saw President Ortega following as offensive to their religion and their culture.
But the latest catalyst for conflict is not primarily ideological, but economic.
Specifically, it is the price of lobster.
Miskitos have traditionally been employed as hired hands on government-licensed lobster fishing vessels along this coast.
In the last few months, their wages have been cut. The foreign owners of the boats say that they are reacting to the fall in global markets. The Miskitos suspect a rip-off.
"They pay us less and take a bigger cut," says Mario, a lobster diver. He is standing on the scrubbed wooden deck of the Puerto Cabezas port. Behind him are dozens of boats, all in harbour because business is so bad.
"The lobsters should be ours anyway," he adds.
His discontent, and that of hundreds of divers like him, has been seized upon by the Miskito leadership in their latest bid for independence.
The movement appears to have been given a sense of urgency by the fact that two oil drilling concessions have recently been granted off the coastline.
"They take everything from us, and give nothing back," says Oscar Hodgson.
But the mayor of Puerto Cabezas, Guillermo Espinozo, doubts that the independence movement is as popular as it claims.
"It's all connected with the lack of employment," he says. "If I called these people...and offered them jobs, they would come here and work. They would soon stop talking about independence."
Puerto Cabezas is the poorest corner of Nicaragua. Unemployment stands at around 80%.
In its municipal square, grown men sit aimlessly on the children's swings. On a concrete block across the road there is a fading poster calling for Daniel Ortega's election in 2006. It is covered with insulting graffiti.
A few blocks away hundreds of Miskitos gather at the indigenous people's community centre.
"Long live independence," they chant. And they sing their national anthem.
"Independence for Moskitia?"
The BBC has an article titled Nicaragua's Miskitos seek independence which, while pretty basic, can give you an idea of the issues and what the "Spanish surname" folks think.
I do have one nit with the history section of the article. The recent part says:
[begin excerpt] The relationship between the Miskito people and the government in Managua has never been easy. After the Sandinista revolution led by Daniel Ortega succeeded in 1979, many Miskitos were quick to join the US-backed counter-revolutionaries or "contras". Some found the Marxist route they saw President Ortega following as offensive to their religion and their culture. [end excerpt]
Historically, this region was ignored by the Nicaraguan government and, for most people in the region, that was just fine. That is, they were de facto self-governing first because the British pretty much ignored them and then, when annexed by Nicaragua, they continued to be ignored. The language difference and lack of transportation routes supported this isolation.
After Somoza was run out of Nicaragua, the Sandinistas wanted to "solve" this neglect problem and went to the region to tell the people that there was a new government of good guys and they wanted to help.
The article blames "the Marxist route" as the issue. (I will give the author credit for saying "some".) The reality is that you have a people that have been living just fine without anyone "helping" and then a new group of people come in, say "were the new boss and we want to help you" and what will be your reaction? Most likely, "we're fine, go away".
This "trying to be the new boss" approach lead to some Sandinista errors (which they readily admit to). To the new government's credit, they eventually did "get it". The draft constitution was published in Spanish, English and Miskito and it granted autonomy to the region.
Now, after the article as an intro, it would be nice to see why their Autonomy is not enough.
"Miskitos Declare Independent Nation of Moskitia in Nicaragua"
On April 19th, representatives from 360 Mískito communities declared the secession of the entire Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, also known as the Mosquito Coast. They announced that the area, which accounts for 46% of Nicaragua’s territory and an estimated 11% of the population, would form the independent Nation of Moskitia.
Met with barely a mention from the world press, a stony silence from Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and scorn from local government, the indigenous Council of Elders annulled all land contracts with the Nicaraguan government pending renegotiation, cancelled government elections, called for businesses to begin paying tax to them instead of the government authorities and gave the police and military six months to organise an orderly and peaceful withdrawal. Not only have the new ‘government’ already begun work on a currency, a flag and a national anthem they are also backed by the ‘Indigenous Army of Moskitia’, comprised of up to four hundred conflict veterans.
One of the first acts of the ‘Indigenous Army’ was the unarmed takeover of the party headquarters of the political party Yatama – the party which represents the indigenous population in central government and is an ally of the ruling Sandinista party, the FSLN. The party, like the members of the ‘Indigenous Army’, has its origins in the region’s struggle against the Sandinista government in the 1980’s. Following the overthrow of dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979 the Mískito people, the region’s majority indigenous group, found themselves caught up in the conflict between the new revolutionary Sandinista government and US backed militias, the Contras. Those in the firing line faced forced relocation into government camps, arbitrary imprisonment and even disappearances and torture. In response many took up arms, some later to join with the Contras, others independently, in a rebellion that lasted until 1987.
The treatment of the Misqito people was always one noticeable stain on the Sandinista’s less than impressive human rights record, which as well as accusations of arbitary imprisonment and disapearences also included the curtailing of freedom of speech and assembly and the freedom of the press. Most of the Sandinista abuses of the time could at least be put into the context of a conflict with well-armed, foreign-backed and completely ruthless paramilitary organisations which habitually employed the worst kind of terror tactics. The Mískito people, however, just lived in a strategically important location.
The legislation which eventually brought an end to hostilities was the ‘Autonomy of the Caribbean Coast’ law, passed by the Sandinista government in 1987. The law divided the region into two autonomous regions, one in the North – RAAN, and one in the South - RAAS which, in theory, had control of natural resources and a degree of self-determination. In practice any semblance of autonomy quickly came to an end following the 1990 electoral defeat of the Sandinistas and the accession of the conservative Violeta Barrios de Chamarro who had little time for autonomy but a keen interest in the region’s natural resources.
Since then the Mískitos have suffered in poverty. Struggling against an increasingly unpredictable climate and hit hard by natural disasters, the Mískitos have also witnessed the destruction of around 50% of their rainforest in the last 50 years from logging and the pollution of their water supplies with mercury and cyanide by gold mines. The issue of secession first came to attention in 2002 when the Council of Elders declared independence in theory but took no concrete steps to achieve it in practice.
In 2006, Daniel Ortega, leader of the Sandinista party that first fought the Mískitos then granted them autonomy in the 80s, returned to power after 16 years in opposition. Back in the 80s Ortega and the Sandinistas gained world-wide renown following their ousting of the vicious Somoza. While they were demonised by the Americans, with Ronald Reagan labelling Sandinista Nicaragua a “totalitarian dungeon”, they were idolised by many on the left for being a uniquely multi-class, multi-ethnic, multi-doctrinal, and politically pluralistic movement.
In its latest incarnation the Sandinistas have proved to be equally divisive, although for very different reasons. Throughout their years in opposition, Ortega was accused of accumulating personal power by strengthening his grip on the party machinery. This led to a rift in the party with dissidents breaking away to form their own Sandinista party, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). Unperturbed, Ortega began forging alliances with what had previously been regarded as Sandinista enemies.
The process began in 1999 when Ortega entered into an agreement with Arnoldo Alemán, an official during the Somoza regime who had been elected president in 1997. Amongst other things, the agreement was used to attempt to prevent the prosecution of Alemán on corruption charges and Ortega on charges that he had sexually abused his stepdaughter, Zoilamerica Narvaez.
With the 2006 elections approaching this was followed by Ortega converting to Catholicism – the church had been fierce opponents of the Sandinistas, seeing them as a threat to their traditionally privileged position. He then announced a former contra, Jaime Morales, as his running mate.
Since regaining power Ortega has been attacked for clamping down on democracy. Things reached a head in the November municipal elections when candidates from MRS and the traditional Conservative party were banned from running altogether. International observers were barred from the elections while the tens of thousands of observers from the independent Nicargauan group, Ethics and Transparency, were reduced to trying to observe from outside the polling stations. Even from that distance they estimated that there were irregularities in a third of polling stations and questioned the results which saw a comprehensive win for the FSLN that flew in the face of independent surveys conducted before the election. The perception that the election was fraudulant led to mass street protests which were violently put down.
Ortega has also faced criticism from disillusioned social movements, especially for his stance on women's rights. In the 80's the Sandinista commitment to gender equality saw women play a major role in the movement and in its leadership. Following the 1990 electoral defeat these gains were quickly reversed and by the end of 1991 around 16,000 working women had lost their jobs. Since returning to power, instead of restoring the pre-eminence of women’s struggle for equality, Ortega has pandered to his chauvinistic foes by not only supporting a blanket ban on abortion bill also by persecuting the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM) for opposing it.
Nevertheless Ortega's return has a seen the reintroduction of a number of progressive policies; literacy rates are approaching 100%, free health clinics are once again staffed and stocked and the small and medium farming sector has been revived.
The current Ortega government is clearly considerably different in character to the one that battled the Mískito in the early 80s and to the one that signed a peace deal years later. So far it has yet to actively respond to the declaration, perhaps embarrassed by the fact that last year Ortega was the only world leader to recognize the breakaway Russian-backed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Or maybe they are biding their time waiting to see if the movement finds wider resonance in the region.
The proposed Nation of Moskitia would be divided into seven autonomous regions, reflecting the ethnic diversity of the region which is home to Spanish speaking Mestizos (people of mixed Spanish and indigenous heritage), English speaking Creoles, Garifuna (a Caribbean population of mixed indigenous and African slave heritage) as well as a number of other indigenous groups. This diversity is already presenting the separatists with one of their biggest challenges. While the Mískito are the majority in the Northern region, in the South they form a minority. So far, although Southern Mískito leaders have declared their support for independence, the rest of the regions population has remained detached and silent.
While the national government has yet to comment the regional powers have been considerably more vocal. The Governor of the RAAN, Reynaldo Francis, stated that it is merely a “poorly organised” effort by a “group of old men”. This charge was strongly denied by separatist leader Rev. Hector Williams who has been been elected as Wihta Tara, or 'Great Judge' of Moskitia by the Mískito communities. In response to Francis' comments Williams said, "We are not puppets. We are men. And now we have the weight of a nation on our shoulders."
Whether it proves successful or not, the independence movement of the Mosquito coast is further proof of the increasing rebelliousness of Latin America's indigenous population after 500 years of abuse and exploitation. With an indigenous president in power in Bolivia, the continuing Zapatista autonomous zones in Mexico and mass movements from the Minga in Colombia (see SchNEWS 656) to the continuing protests in Peruvian Amazonia (see SchNEWS 675), Latin America's indigenous peoples are becoming increasingly vocal in demanding not just recognition and resources but also to live in a society organised on different principles, their own principles.
"Miskito Elders Council declares La Mosquitia independent of Nicaragua"
2009-05-12 by Karla Jacobs from "Tortilla con sal" [http://tortillaconsal.com/separatist_miskito_movement.html]:
On April 18th the Elders Council of La Mosquitia (considered the maximum authority of the indigenous Miskito people's traditional organizational structure) held an assembly in Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas) at which they declared the independence of the Northern and Southern Atlantic Regions (RAAN and RAAS) from Nicaragua. The new nation the Elders intend to create will be called the Communitary Nation of La Mosquitia.
During the event at which the surprise announcement was made, Reverend Hector Williams was elected as Gran Wihta Tara, the maximum leader of La Mosquitia and of the authority the Elders now recognize as the legitimate government of the Caribbean region.
Also during the assembly the Council of Elder Ministers assist Williams' government, as was the Indigenous Army of La Mosquitia, a force of approximately 200 former Yatama combatants which was designated the task of defending the independence of La Mosquitia.
[During the 1980s, Yatama, then an indigenous resistance movement, was involved in the armed conflict against the first FSLN government. In the 1990s the movement became a political party and has since participated in several regional and national elections with relative success. Currently Yatama is part of the FSLN led governing political alliance. The members of the Indigenous Army of La Mosquitia, however, expressed their profound discontent with the recent policies and actions of Yatama leader Brooklyn Rivera.]
The Declaration of Independence read during the assembly proposes a six month transition period and issues a formal request for assistance from the UN to carry out this process. The declaration goes on to order the suspension of all political elections and instructs companies operating within the region to desist from their tax payments to Nicaragua's central government and to come to agreements vis a vis tax and other arrangements with the newly proposed authorities.
The Miskito people's troubled recent history -
Until the latter part of the 19th century La Mosquitia (the territories belonging to the Miskito people comprising part of the current northern Nicaraguan and southern Honduran Caribbean regions) was an autonomous region where Miskitos lived relatively peacefully with the English who had colonized certain parts of the coastal region.
In 1894 Nicaraguan President José Santos Zelaya invaded the part of La Mosquitia that today forms Nicaragua's Caribbean coast and obliged a number of representatives of the Miskito people to sign a convention agreeing to become part of Nicaragua. As journalist Sergio Simpson describes in a recent article published on his blog, the Miskito people have, ever since, suffered discrimination, violence, exploitation and disrespect at the hands of their mestizo "co-patriots:" [Mestizo is the term used to describe persons of mixed Nicaraguan-Spanish ancestry]. Sergio Simpson:
"The independentist proposal is not new ... it has existed ever since ... 1894 when President José Santos Zelaya militarily invaded [La Mosquitia] refusing to acknowledge the local autonomous authorities. Mestizo representatives from the Pacific coast turned up, displaced creoles and indigenous persons and imposed their own classist and, of course, racist discriminatory visions. A concept of "civilization" was imposed which established unsurmountable differences between costeños (indigenous people and afrodecendents) and mestizos.
"Since then all the different ... leaders of Nicaragua have signed concessions permitting the exploitation of [the Caribbean coast's] human and natural resources, although such concessions have never permitted indigenous communities to enjoy the benefits of their properties. ... The majority of the indigenous lands were declared as Nicaraguan national territory. ...
"With the triumph of the Popular Sandinista Revolution (1979) the contradictions between the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and central government were magnified to such an extent that indigenous tribes resorted to armed violence against the government as part of the [Contra] war financed by the US. ... The Law of Autonomy of the Caribbean Coast (Law 28 approved in September 1987) was the product of negotiations between Miskito armed groups and the Sandinista government which, after four years at war, yielded to the pressure and understood the demands [being made by the Miskitos].
"Since the electoral defeat of the FSLN (1990) ... the indigenous territories have suffered the onslaught of individuals anxious to acumulate immediate wealth even if that implies the destruction of large areas of terrain. We see National Army helicopters involved in the destruction of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, local and Pacific leaders investing in timber processing, cattle farming and industrial fishing, thousands of people getting involved in the trafficking and consumption of cocaine, thousands of former soldiers, mestizo contras and land merchants invading the jungle.
"The Miskito people went straight from the suffering of armed conflict to the distress of hunger, loss of communal values, delinquential violence, the increasing deterioration of their natural and environmental resources and the corruption of indigenous leaders."
Authorities and media, apparently taken a back, await further events -
Although the general discontent of the Miskito and other indigenous peoples is a well known, if little understood, phenomenon in Nicaragua, the proclamation of independence on April 18th came as a surprise to Nicaraguan authorities and society alike. So far central and regional government representatives have said very little in public about the implications of the Elder's announcement or how they plan to react. Similarly national media outlets (admittedly all based in Pacific urban centers) have published little about events in the Caribbean regions. There is a sense in which the generalized silence surrounding events suggests that people are waiting anxiously to see how serious the Elder's council is about its proclamation, and what is going to happen next.
According to Wilfredo Jarquín Lang, Special Ombudsman for Indigenous People and Ethnic Communities for the RAAS, the Miskito Elders Council's separatist aspirations are not shared by the rest of the indigenous peoples and other communities of the Caribbean region. This was certainly the inexplicit intepretation the FSLN party political periodical, El 19, made of the Sumu Mayangna Nation General Assembly celebrated in the town of Rosita, RAAN, at the beginning of May, during which new authorities were elected in the presence of central and regional government representatives.
Special Ombudsman for Indigenous People and Ethnic Communities for the RAAN, Violeta Irías Nelson, is of the opinion that, whether or not the Miskito Elders Council is acting in representation of majority regional opinion, the decision "not to recognize the established authorities, and the formation of the Indigenous Army of La Mosquitia, could be bad signs."
Brooklyn Rivera, a National Assembly Deputy and leader of the indigenous party Yatama (which, as mentioned above, is allied with the FSLN), coincides with Irías' fear. "As long as whichever government is in power fails to attend to the demands and aspirations of [the people of the Caribbean regions] those demands will gain more and more force," says Rivera. "As inhabitants of [the Caribbean regions] we acknowledge that the [separatist movement] could gain broad support from all sectors. ... Although the proclamation of independence is juridically weak, the eventual cultural and political impact could provoke large forces to rebel and create a serious conflictive situation."
Secretary of Indigenous Affairs at the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, Joel Dixon, minimized the Elders' Council announcement saying "it doesn't even have the full support of the Miskito people, let alone the other peoples" (mayangna, garifuna, rama, creole and mestizo). Dixon believes that beneath the announced aspiration of independence lies another objective - to undermine the leadership of Rivera within Yatama and among the region's population as a whole.
No explanation of any diplomatic or other response to the Elders Council's announcement was given by Dixon, the only central government official to have publicly commented on recent events. Undeniably, if the Miskito communal authorities were to go ahead with their announced plan to establish an independent nation, Nicaragua's central government would be faced with a very difficult and potentially explosive situation. The very existence of the Indigenous Army of La Mosquitia violates the Nicaraguan constitution which states that the only armed forces legally permitted to exist are the Nicaraguan Army and the National Police.
Possible manipulation of Miskitos by underground forces -
As could be expected a number of conspiracy theories have been put forward about who and what superior forces are behind the surprise separatist announcement. In an article which appeared on the right wing news and information website,www.nicaraguahoy.info, run from Costa Rica, Roberto Escobedo Caicedo claims that agents of both the Colombian government and Colombian drug cartels are involved in underground campaigns to encourage separatist aspirations among Miskitos. The former, he says, are doing so with the intention of avoiding Nicaragua's claim against Colombia over the maritime border the two nation's share coming to fruition at the International Court of Justice, while the latter are interested in creating the conditions to install a cocaine trafficking haven.
Meanwhile, during comments to a national TV news program, FSLN Deputy Gustavo Porras expressed his suspicion that US Ambassador Robert Callahan is the one behind the formation of the separatist Miskito movement. Porras cited Callahan's experience as US Embassy spokesmen in Honduras during the 1980s, during which time he assisted John Negroponte in coordinating the Contra war against the FSLN government. "And I understand that he [helped organize separatist movements] in Yugoslavia," Porras went on.
Going on publicly available information, it is as yet impossible to come to any sort of conclusion about whether some underground force with sinister intentions is behind the Elders Council's recent actions, or what the possible outcome of the situation may be. One can but hope that the Council is motivated by a genuine desire to help the Miskito and other peoples of Nicaragua's Caribbean coastal regions overcome their current situation of desperate impoverishment and marginalization. It would be naïve, however, to overlook the attractiveness the extreme social and political vulnerability of the region (the poorest and least developed of Central America) would represent, in terms of being a potential punto de entrada, for groups interested in destabilizing the country and its central government.
"Campaigning against the Patuca Dam, Honduras"
2000-08 Tearfund Advocacy case study by Graham Gordon, Tearfund Policy Officer, and Osvaldo Munguia, Director, MOPAWI [http://tilz.tearfund.org/~/media/Files/TILZ/Topics/Advocacy%20case%20study%20-%20Mopawi%20Honduras.pdf]:
MOPAWI is an NGO that began in 1985, based in La Moskitia region of Honduras, Central America. This is a vast expanse of pristine rain forest with many protected areas. When MOPAWI started work there they discovered that the indigenous people believed that the land they lived on was theirs, when in fact it was classed as national land. This meant that nobody had secure tenure and that anyone could ´peacefully´ settle on the land and, after some years, claim it as their own. Therefore one of the first actions that MOPAWI were involved in was to create awareness over land tenure and help people to organise themselves at community level to be granted land rights. The indigenous population has been in negotiations with the government for nearly 10 years.
Patuca Dam project -
Honduras cannot supply enough electricity to serve the current needs of its population and, since the 1960s, the government has been collecting detailed data from the Patuca River in La Moskitia to consider whether it would be a suitable source for hydroelectric power. There was already a dam in operation in a different part of the country but, during a very long dry season in 1994, it had to dramatically decrease its production of electricity and rationing was introduced. Since then Honduras has needed to buy electricity from neighbouring countries and the government has been under pressure from these countries and from its own industry to develop its own secure source of electricity. In 1996 the government contracted two North American Companies to build a dam on the Patuca River, and granted them concessions to sell electricity back to them for the following 40 years. Therefore, with one slight of hand, the government had effectively provided natural resource rights to foreign companies, whereas 10 years of ´negotiations´ with the indigenous population had produced no results. The companies hired an agency from Costa Rica to undertake an environmental impact assessment to consider the likely effects of the proposed dam on the environment and the people there. This took 6 weeks to complete and there were fears that it was rushed through so that the dam could start as quickly as possible.
MOPAWI’s concerns -
MOPAWI were concerned that this dam would have devastating consequences on La Moskitia:
- The dam would prevent the river from flooding, prevent the land becoming fertilised, and thus reduce food production.
- The Patuca River is the main form of transportation in the region and the dam would lower the water levels and make it more difficult for boats to pass up and down.
- A new road was planned which would have opened it up for migration of people into the region, threatening the land rights of the indigenous population, putting pressure on an already fragile ecosystem and increasing logging.
- The electricity was for the main industrial cities and La Moskitia would have been the last place in the country to receive a constant supply.
There was also evidence from a geologist that, with the high annual rainfall and a fragile ecosystem that is prone to erosion, the dam would be blocked after only a few years. The result would therefore have been environmental destruction but with no ongoing supply of electricity to show for it.
Advocacy action -
- networking with organisations. The first step for MOPAWI was to work with other concerned groups to form a coalition including environmental groups, indigenous peoples groups and local government representatives. Due to mobilising the population over the previous issues of land rights, the people were organised and accustomed to representing themselves at every level.
- working with the community. At the same time they became involved in many popular awareness-raising activities. These included seminars with people in La Moskitia, a weekly programme on the national radio with a phone in discussion, and a press conference with the Honduras media.
- lobbying at government level. They also met with the government and the companies involved to discuss the issues and represent their concerns. This was done in private meetings as well as through holding a public forum in the capital city to which the government, companies, indigenous groups, environmental groups and the media were invited.
- working at international level. Early in 1997 MOPAWI contacted partner organisations in the UK, such as Tearfund, and in the US, such as the Native Lands Group and the International Rivers Network. MOPAWI asked them to put external pressure on the Honduran government and on the companies to halt the plans for the dam.
Objectives of the campaign -
The coalition demanded the following action be taken:
- an environmental impact assessment of at least 18 months so that the likely effects on the environment and animals could be understood during all of the different seasons
- serious investigation of all alternative possibilities for providing power in the region
- granting the Patuca Region the status as a protected area
- granting communal land rights to the indigenous population
The proposed dam became a subject of national interest and the construction companies, concerned that it may not have been a good investment, were more eager to talk, even though they were still planning to go ahead with the construction. The coalition did not merely complain about the proposed dam but they tried to find alternative solutions. They recognised the need for electricity and showed that a series of smaller dams could be built throughout the country to provide more electricity. They also showed how through biomass, solar and wind energy, Honduras could produce enough electricity for the whole population.
Personal danger -
The campaign was not without its danger to those involved. Carlos Luna, the mayor of one of the municipalities in the Patuca Region, was found killed in his office. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the campaign to protect the Patuca National Park and it is thought his death is connected in some way to this.
Hurricane Mitch -
In October 1998 Hurricane Mitch tore through Honduras, causing untold destruction to homes and the environment. For more than 150 kilometres along the Patuca River huge swathes of the river bank and thousands of trees were completely washed away. There were mountains of trees and extensive silting along the riverbed. A subsequent impact study showed that, even if the dam had withstood the force of the hurricane and resulting river flow, it would have received so much silt and debris that it would have been unusable.
Hurricane Mitch -
In October 1998 Hurricane Mitch tore through Honduras, causing untold destruction to homes and the environment. For more than 150 kilometres along the Patuca River huge swathes of the river bank and thousands of trees were completely washed away. There were mountains of trees and extensive silting along the riverbed. A subsequent impact study showed that, even if the dam had withstood the force of the hurricane and resulting river flow, it would have received so much silt and debris The situation now In March 1999 the companies involved officially withdrew their involvement with the dam project. They said this was due to the level of local opposition. It must also be in part due to their realisation that the project was unworkable. However, the government still has plans to build the dam and is looking for other partners. Apart from stopping the project for the moment, the campaign has enabled the people in La Moskitia to be better organised, it has strengthened the environmental movement in Honduras as a whole and more people are supportive of protecting natural forests.that it would have been unusable.
The Future -
The coalition is ready to deal with future proposals to build the dam. MOPAWI are still working with the indigenous communities and the government for land rights to be granted to the indigenous communities. When this happens they will be in a much stronger position to prevent unwanted development and to control their own future.
ALBA - Republic of Nicaragua - RAAN
"Nicaraguan Voters Deepen 21st Century Socialism on all Fronts"
2012-02-01 interview with Felipe Stuart Cournoyer by John Riddell from "Axis of Logic"[http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_64289.shtml]
[ ... ]
Riddell: How are government relations with Nicaragua’s indigenous peoples?
Stuart: This is an important achievement of the government. Under the first FSLN government, in the 1980s, the constitution incorporated measures for indigenous autonomy, including assuring these peoples of a share of natural resources revenue. After the FSLN was defeated in 1990, the new governments refused to pass enabling legislation. Now that has been done. Indigenous communal lands have won recognition. The FSLN has a strategic alliance with Yatama, the main indigenous party, which governs the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN). Indigenous representatives are also represented in the National government.
[ ... ]
"How was neo-Nazi cop hired?"
2012-04-26 letter by Mark White to the editor of "Tico Times" [http://www.ticotimes.net/Opinion/Letters-to-the-Editor/Previous-Letters/How-was-neo-Nazi-cop-hired]:
Dear Tico Times: Can someone please explain to me how a boneheaded neo-Nazi ends up on the National Police force? Someone had to know this guy was a nut job. Yet they hired him, gave him a gun and badge, and assigned him the task of protecting citizens. The fact that he is complaining about being unjustly fired and persecuted is the best part. Poor soul. Can’t work because he has “White Power” tattooed on his arm. I feel bad for his kids. Yes, Costa Rica needs more cops and it’s good that they’re putting more on the streets. But they should be vetted better. If you see a cop with a swastika tattoo, are you going to feel safe?